By Nathan Sykes
Think small businesses can’t compete with bigger brands when it comes to marketing?
Think again. Now that we’re judging the success of marketing on whether or not it creates an engaging experience, and not just on whether it results in a sale, the playing field is effectively leveled.
Customers are willing to demonstrate their loyalty to whichever brand promises a more interesting time, in addition to a superior product.
For a start, the allure of this kind of marketing strategy is that it scratches a very particular itch, and one that younger generations of customers seem to have in spades: the desire to spend money on experiences, rather than solely on material products.
For large corporations and small businesses alike, this has proven to be a double-edged sword: Experienced-focused customers can be brand-loyal for a long time if you keep them interested. However, it also raises the stakes considerably.
So, how can a small business get in on this phenomenon? Here’s how to put experiential marketing to work for you.
Throw a party, host or sponsor an event
One of the best ways to create an experience for your customers and recent converts will never forget is to host a local event. Consider things like a pop-up sale, street fair or live music.
Small businesses and nonprofits are a perfect match for this type of thing. Your company could partner with a community organization, charity or food pantry to put together a mutually beneficial community concert, potluck, ice cream social, charitable dance or something else entirely. You could even adopt a stretch of highway or get involved in another type of humanitarian project in your area. Encourage local participation, with or without incentives like discounts on your products or services, with entry into regular prize drawings.
Strategic, and also pro-social, partnerships like these are a great way to create memorable one-off or recurring experiences that let you do some good while also boosting brand recognition for your company.
Incorporate your customers into your marketing efforts
What better way to create an experience for would-be customers than to use the experiences – and the enthusiasm – of your existing ones?
Lots of companies have been getting into crowdsourced marketing materials for a while now, including major names like Airbnb. However, the concept can readily apply to businesses of any kind and size. In Airbnb’s case, their “Stories From the Community” series does double-duty: It’s a transparent way to market to people who might not have any experience using Airbnb’s services, or even know what the concept entails.
Doubly important, it puts the people being marketed to in the shoes of Airbnb’s previous customers, who can share photos, videos, anecdotes and more about their trips and adventures. It’s great marketing material for the company, but it also increases customer loyalty, making them feel more closely knit. It helps potential customers easily envision adventures and experiences of their own.
Offer workshops and classes in your area
Every small business is staffed with people who have talents and passions – whether it’s directly or only somewhat related to the work you do. The idea of becoming a thought leader in one’s industry is hardly a new one, but small companies are in a unique position to demonstrate what they do in an up-close, personal and relatable way. Consider partnering with a local library or another venue so your staff can demonstrate some of the practical skills that go along with the work they do or the products they offer.
Like Barnes & Noble, your classes could focus on educating your user base about how to get even more out of your products, as the bookseller does with its e-readers in its stores on a monthly or bi-monthly basis.
Give live video a try
There can be a lot of cognitive distance between the average customer and some of their favorite brands. No matter how great the product might be, if the company and its people are a mystery, or if the business seems to skate by with an uninspiring or arms-length presence, customers might go elsewhere for a more dynamic experience. Live video can help bridge this cognitive distance by offering fans and customers around the world the opportunity to watch your company operate behind the scenes. They can see how your employees conduct themselves when they’re not, strictly speaking, on the clock.
Maybe you can create the impression of a live event. When Sculpteo wanted to show the world what its 3D printer could do, it put together a road trip to perform a test on its newest creation: one of the world’s first 3D-printed, fully functional bicycles. It documented the entire journey on its blog through photos and videos. The result was a true experience for those following along at home, who came away with a new appreciation for what a midsized company’s products can do in the real world.
Build a knockout booth and attend a trade show
Image Source: Speedpro
Trade shows are a wonderful opportunity to show off your products, services and personnel, scope out the competition, and create a strong impression among potential customers, including other area business owners.
Admittedly, not every company’s trade show booth is created equal – and if you come across as drab and uninspiring, your presence there might even do more harm than good. However, take a look at what’s possible with some out-of-the-box thinking. You can turn your trade show booth into a must-see destination by setting up tables where customers can put products through their paces or by incorporating AR and VR technology for an uncanny virtual experience. You can also simply go big and bold with imposing signs and banners plus well-chosen colors that appeal to the eyes. Trade shows are experiences unto themselves, but your company needs to bring something exciting and dynamic to the table.
Let customers test your products and provide feedback
Conducting focus groups and rounds of product testing is nothing new, but how can you use such an opportunity to engage with the public and market your business in a memorable way?
Image Source: Surveyanyplace
One of your jobs in marketing your products is to present them in a way people can immediately grasp and appreciate. If you want to make an experience of it, you might consider creating an environment where customers can touch and appreciate the build quality or the materials you’ve chosen, and see how they work up close. You can take this concept and turn it into a proper experience by building showrooms for your products, like Philips does with its lighting solutions and Clopay does with its artisanal garage doors. If you’re really feeling ambitious, you can invite returning customers to give you feedback on new products before they’re officially launched, which will further make them feel valued and loyal.
Brands can create memories too, not just products
Research published by Freeman indicates two things about marketing in 2018 and beyond: A majority of marketers today believe that offering experiences is key to creating lasting relationships with consumers.
That same majority believes traditional advertising will see lower returns as the public becomes savvier about shopping for experiences rather than just for material goods. Maybe it’s time your company got started creating some potential memories of its own.
Guest author: From Pittsburgh, PA, Nathan Sykes is the founder of Finding an Outlet and writes about business and technology on sites such as BestTechie, Simple Programmer, and TechTalks.
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